Apparently, leading from behind is passe’:
On the surface, much of President Trump’s foreign policy seems to be reverting to the mainstream upon first contact with reality. Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s horrific use of chemical weapons produced a quick military response, applauded across partisan lines in Washington. Relations with Russia have settled to predictably adversarial depths. The administration is full of appropriately reassuring words about NATO, and the one-China policy was safely back in place for the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Senior national security appointments have been mostly traditionalist, with radical voices in retreat. In a Washington always impatient for sweeping judgments as a new administration wraps up its first 100 days, it is tempting to conclude that convention is ascendant.
Beneath the surface, however, lurk more troubling trend lines. Through policy incoherence and not-so-benign neglect, the Trump team risks hollowing out the ideas, initiative and institutions on which U.S. leadership and international order rest.
The idea of America has been at the heart of our success in the world for 70 years. For all our imperfections, we have embodied political and economic openness, respect for human dignity and a sense of possibility. The power of our example has mattered more than the power of our preaching, and enlightened self-interest has driven our strategy.
Who wrote this schlock? That would be William J. Burns, who was deputy U.S. secretary of state from 2011 to 2014 under President Barack Obama. First, let’s consider that Trump has only been in office for three months. These things take time. We were exorted to give Mr. Obama time in 2009.
Second, a guy who worked for Obama shouldn’t be yammering about foreign policy failures. Here’s a few, with some additions from myself:
- Lack of solidarity with Israel
- Disaster with the Arab Spring
- Leaving Iraq too soon and letting ISIS take over
- Handling of Syrian Red Line
- Calling ISIS “JV”
- Returning the bust of Churchill to the Brits
- Signing a Disastrous Nuclear Deal with the Mullahs of Iran
- Paying ransom to Iranian for hostages- and using foreign currency in unmarked plane
- Obama trashed America 18 times on Asian Tour
- Released $221 million to the Palestinian Authority in last few hours
- Leading from behind
- The Russian “reset” button
- The Asian reach-out
- Blowing off Poland on missile defense
- Blowing off our traditional relationships in favor of new ones with extremist regimes.
There’s plenty more for that list. It’s the “power of example.” And, that example included spying on our own people, going after journalists, using the IRS to attack citizens and groups, etc. Mr. Burns, and Mrs. Clinton, btw, were part of the Obama administration for a goodly chunk of those failures. And, Mr. Obama ended his presidency with a 56% disapproval rating for his foreign policy. 55% disapprove of his handling on terrorism. 61% disapprove of his handling of ISIS.
A second crucial asset has been American initiative — our willingness and ability to mobilize others to deal with shared problems. From regional challenges to wider global dilemmas such as climate change and trade, U.S. leadership has been critical to the unprecedented peace and prosperity of the post-World War II era. Of course we got a lot of things wrong, sometimes at grievous cost, most painfully in Vietnam and Iraq. And of course we need to make significant adjustments in a world in which the United States is no longer dominant but still preeminent.
Mr. Burns forgot to mention ISIS, Libya, the Arab Spring, the Iranian Green Uprising, and so many others. When you’re leading from behind because Obama just can’t be bothered to chill on the vacations, golf, and fundraisers, well….
Maybe Trump fails. Maybe he doesn’t. Time will tell. But, people who were bigshots during the terrible foreign policy of Obama shouldn’t complain. Especially when so many of the problems were not only left over from Team Obama, but created by Team Obama’s reckless and feckless foreign
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